Youth and the Fight to Defeat the Ultra-Right: How Do We Fit In?

May 7, 2005
Youth and the Fight to Defeat the Ultra-Right: How Do We Fit In?

Our generation is under attack. Despite his bad showing with youth, Bush has showed that the close 2004 elections won’t slow down the ultra-right when it comes to political and educational policies for youth and students. The White House’s 2005 budget proposals cut funding for mentoring and tutoring programs, pit Pell grants against Perkins loans, and leave fire departments fighting school boards for resources. The Bush administration continues to push legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act, which places ridiculous requirements and rules on the public education system then underfunds then. The ultra-right works purposely to create a sickly educational system in order to open up space for the use of our schools as profit-makers for private corporations.

Of course the effects of the attacks on public education are more sharp in the context of a war which requires the enlistment of more soldiers every day and an economy providing less and less opportunities for youth. We have often spoken of the poverty draft but we have yet to take on this issue in a real way – let’s talk about it in terms of what it means for young people. By starving our schools and limiting the number of youth with access to higher education they limit options for the majority of youth who are forced to chose between low paying jobs with no benefits or becoming soldiers for unjust wars and imperialist conquests.

As the ultra-right steps up their attacks on youth we see that young people are organizing themselves and fighting back. From the increasing militancy of high school students in their fight against the poverty draft and military recruitment in their schools to the successful organizing campaigns students have waged on campuses for workers rights and living wages, young people are showing that the setback of the 2004 elections won’t slow them down. In fact, the anti-Bush sentiment among youth after the 2004 elections continues to rise. We are seeing that despite the most underhanded, sneaky attacks on youth – like trying to convince us that privatizing social security is good for us – young people are standing up and speaking out. Both the organizing efforts against the war and the 2004 anti-Bush struggle proved to be very important for reigniting and encouraging the youth and student movement to unite and fight back.

Through these struggles we saw the birth of new coalitions, youth and student-led organizations and joint work by organizations and movements that had not previously worked together. The National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, born in response to the post-9/11 policies of the Bush administration, continues to expand its membership and is currently one of the broadest, most representative coalitions of progressive youth in the country. On a local level, young people are engaging in struggles against the war, privatization of Social Security, living wage campaigns, and budget cuts. Today we see the deepening of relations and partnership between the youth formations and labor, communities of color, women’s and grassroots organizations. The YCL and the Party must be there to foster these relationships and build unity in the anti-Bush struggle.

It is within the context of increased militancy and activism among youth that the YCL has experienced an increase in our membership and number of organized clubs. The success of our Midwest swing state focus proves that with concentrated efforts and resources we can build a strong, sustainable YCL. The YCL proved itself as an organization that could fight against the immediate dangers of Bush and the right-wing attacks and also provide a long-term vision of what kind of world we want to build. We have to continue to build the YCL as the natural home for radical youth who want to fight back against the Bush agenda and fight for a future free of exploitation, war, racism, sexism, homophobia and environmental destruction. We have also become a valued coalition partner, both nationally and locally, and our participation is sought because of our principled coalition-building practices and organizing skills. As we organize for the 16th World of Festival of Youth and Students we continue to see the possibilities of expanding these relationships on both a national and grassroots level. Strengthened coalition ties are imperative in the development of successful campaigns on the issues that most impact youth and expand our opportunities for recruitment and building of the YCL and Party. We have a special role to play in developing and nurturing the joint work and unity of these forces.

In order to do this, the Party and YCL have to have to deepen our understanding of the youth and student movement today and its specific features. We must do more work to understand the details and specific features of the ultra-right’s policies and approaches to the youth. While we can see some of the general characteristics of their efforts here there is still much we have to do to understand the long-term economic and ideological impacts of their policies on youth. Each of the struggles that we identify as important to the youth offer an opportunity for the Party and the YCL to work together, helping to link students and youth with labor and the broader people’s forces. We have to work together to address the specific concerns of the so-called Walmart Generation and find ways to make the relationship between youth and the labor movement stronger and more strategic. We have to develop a joint approach to engaging young workers and winning the youth over to the cause of our working class.

And while we have noted here with pride that youth are responding to Bush’s political and economic attacks on youth we must also look at what the ultra-right is doing to win youth over to their side. The fact that youth were the only age group to vote as a majority against Bush surely did not go unnoticed by the ultra-right. We have to pay attention to what their approach to young people will be and anticipate that they aren’t going to let the youth slip away from them so easily – as we have seen especially on campuses around the country, the right wing will stop at nothing to recruit young footsoldiers for their ideological offensives and attack those daring to stand up to them. They have created an environment on campuses that silences democratic-minded free speech and promotes fear-mongering and ignorance. Today they have the added support of the corporate controlled media and FOX news, which aids in their witch-hunting and McCarthy-like censorship of any professor or college administration who would dare challenge the Bush administration’s positions on anything from the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the legitimacy of the theory of Evolution.

The YCL and the CP have to provide an alternative to the ultra-right ideology; we have to fight to have our message and vision present on college campuses and in schools where the ultra-right is concentrating and finding fertile ground for so much of its efforts. We have to fight for the hearts and minds of young people through activism and militancy but also with a real focus on ideological education and development.

This is true with our own membership. We should focus on consolidating the YCL membership, strengthening its ideological and political education and deepening our understanding of the role of the youth and the YCL in the fight for socialism. The joint YCL/CP leadership seminar we held on the youth question was a good start but we have to continue to have these discussions at a district level and in our clubs. The Party districts should be working to identify at least one person in the district who will be responsible for working with the YCL where there is one and work to build one where it doesn’t exist. We have to promote the leadership of young Party leaders and help foster their political development. We have to provide opportunities for YCL members to engage in discussions about our long-term vision of change in this country and the world.

Our Party has a wealth of experience, knowledge and history in the class struggle; it is our responsibility to take an active interest and role in the political and ideological education of the next generation of Communists and revolutionaries. Party leaders and members at all levels must see building relationships with YCLers as a political task and responsibility. New members grow, learn and affirm their commitment to our struggle when they are engaged and entrusted with political responsibilities.

The exchange of knowledge and experience can and should be a two-way street. The task of organizing youth and young workers cannot and should not be the YCL’s alone. The Party also has much to learn from the young people in the YCL who are engaging in the battles that are most important to young people today. We know that the YCL in many areas has developed its own unique style of organizing and political work. As we discuss ways of breathing new life and energy into our Party, we would do well to engage our young comrades about their experiences with the Party and within their own political work.

We have to see the building of both organizations as connecting and maximizing not competing for our limited resources and energy. A stronger YCL means a brighter future for the Party and a stronger Party means a more solid foundation for the YCL.


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